By Lisa Carolin, The Livingston Community News

According to “The Bucket Man” Merrill Lundgren, the message about filling people’s buckets by saying or doing nice things, is more important than ever during these tough economic times.

The Genoa Township resident, who will turn 90 next year, is “preaching the gospel of bucket-filling” to everyone from elementary school students to business owners. Lundgren says the simple but profound philosophy of filling people’s buckets to make them feel good, applies to every aspect of life.

“We’re trained not to display in words our love for people,” says Lundgren. “It’s easier for people to display their anger. What we’re doing is teaching kids to go home and be a bucket filler, which I define as a warm and caring person who deals from the heart.”

Lundgren is actively sharing his philosophy with professionals in the community, and praises some of them, who he says are bucket fillers in their own right. One of them is Rick Smith, owner of the real estate company Keller Williams in Brighton.

“Rick Smith is empathetic and caring, and passes that message by the way he conducts himself personally and with his employees.”

Smith believes bucket filling is a job necessity.

“The real estate business involves a lot of rejection and disappointment,” says Smith. “A positive attitude and mind-set is critical to sustaining yourself in this business. Bucket filling acknowledges your appreciation of your employees, and makes a huge impact on their performance. Telling employees they are worthy and have value and that other people see it, is a recipe for synergy and success in business and in life.”

“Dr. Jean Dunegan is also a bucket filler,” says Lundgren, who is a patient of Dunegan at the St. Luke Hometown Healthcare in Brighton. “Dr. Dunegan is a bucket-filling doctor, not something you often see. She never seems rushed and spends a lot of time talking to you. She is warm, caring and concerned.”

Dunegan says, “I opened St. Luke’s as a bucket-filling medical practice. I wanted to offer patients good quality medical care at a reasonable cost. We want to spend the amount of time with people that they deserve, and my patients are very grateful. They fill my bucket, too, because it’s very enjoyable to take care of people in a non-hurried way.”

Lundgren began his bucket filling crusade in 1979, and in 2003 began sharing his message with children. He has since visited and shared his message with children at more than 160 schools, including many in Livingston County. He is assisted by his own children, Peter Lundgren, president of the family company, Bucket Fillers for Life, and his daughter Stacey Lundgren, now the company’s main presenter.
He has been invited to visit Latson Road Elementary School in Howell for the past four years.

“That’s because the principal, Kari Naghtin, is a bucket filler,” says Lundgren. “She has us back every year because she says that there’s a new group of students in the school who haven’t heard about bucket filling before. She not only wants us to talk to her students about love and respecting people, she wants every parent at her school to have their bucket filled too.”

“It’s a very easy message for students to understand,” says Naghtin. “I use the language of bucket filling when I’m talking to students about choices they make. In my newsletter to parents, I tell them that we are a bucket-filling school and give them information about the concept. Parents tell me that it’s a positive message, that’s easy for kids to follow and understand.”

“In any interaction I have with students, I’m looking for ways to fill their buckets. Even when a student makes a poor choice, I want them to walk out of my office, knowing that I still care about them and that we can take the poor choice and turn it into a better choice next time. I try to fill students’ and my staff’s buckets on a daily basis through e-mail or day-to-day actions to make them feel good.”

Naghtin says she asked fourth-graders last spring to write her a letter over the summer to bring to her on the first day of school this year. They needed to share something fun they did over the summer, something they were looking forward to about being in fifth-grade as well as something they were worried about, and something they planned to do to be a good role model and bucket filler for younger students in the school. She calls the assignment a real success.